The Institutes Of The Christian Religion, Books Third and Fourth – John Calvin
The Institutes of the Christian Religion, in Latin “Institutio Christianae religionis”, is Calvin’s most known work on Protestant theology. It was first published in 1536. The book was written as an introductory textbook on the Protestant faith for those with some previous knowledge of theology and covered a broad range of theological topics from the doctrines of church and sacraments to justification by faith alone and Christian liberty. The whole text consists of four books, this volume including the third and fourth.
The Institutes Of The Christian Religion, Books Third and Fourth.
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Contents of the Institutes (from wikipedia)
Institutes in its first form was not merely an exposition of Reformation doctrine; it proved the inspiration to a new form of Christian life for many. It is indebted to Martin Luther in the treatment of faith and sacraments, to Martin Bucer in what is said of divine will and predestination, and to the later scholastics for teaching involving unsuspected implications of freedom in the relation of church and state.
The book is prefaced by a letter to Francis I. As this letter shows, Institutes was composed, or at least completed, to meet a present necessity, to correct an aspersion on Calvin’s fellow reformers. The French king, wishing to suppress the Reformation at home, yet unwilling to alienate the reforming princes of Germany, had sought to confound the teachings of the French reformers with the attacks of Anabaptists on civil authority. “My reasons for publishing the Institutes,” Calvin wrote in 1557, “were first that I might vindicate from unjust affront my brethren whose death was precious in the sight of the Lord, and next that some sorrow and anxiety should move foreign people, since the same sufferings threaten many.” “The hinges on which our controversy turns,” says Calvin in his letter to the king, “are that the Church may exist without any apparent form” and that its marks are “pure preaching of the word of God and rightful administration of the sacraments.”
Despite the dependence on earlier writers, Institutes was felt by many to be a new voice, and within a year there was demand for a second edition. This came in 1539, amplifying especially the treatment of the fall of man, of election, and of reprobation, as well as that of the authority of scripture. It showed also a more conciliatory temper toward Luther in the section on the Lord’s Supper.
The opening chapter of the Institutes is perhaps the best known, in which Calvin presents the basic plan of the book. There are two general subjects to be examined: the creator and his creatures. Above all, the book concerns the knowledge of God the Creator, but “as it is in the creation of man that the divine perfections are best displayed,” there is also an examination of what can be known about humankind. After all, it is mankind’s knowledge of God and of what He requires of his creatures that is the primary issue of concern for a book of theology. In the first chapter, these two issues are considered together to show what God has to do with mankind (and other creatures) and, especially, how knowing God is connected with human knowledge.
To pursue an explanation of the relationship between God and man, the edition of 1559, although Calvin claimed it to be “almost a new work,” in fact completely recast the old Institutes into four sections and 80 chapters, on the basis of the Apostles’ Creed, a traditional structure of Christian instruction used in Western Christianity. First, the knowledge of God is considered as knowledge of the Father, the creator, provider, and sustainer. Next, it is examined how the Son reveals the Father, since only God is able to reveal God. The third section of the Institutes describes the work of the Holy Spirit, who raised Christ from the dead, and who comes from the Father and the Son to affect a union in the Church through faith in Jesus Christ, with God, forever. And finally, the fourth section speaks of the Christian church, and how it is to live out the truths of God and Scriptures, particularly through the sacraments. This section also describes the functions and ministries of the church, how civil government relates to religious matters, and includes a lengthy discussion of the deficiencies of the papacy.
(The text of the last section was taken from a Wikipedia entry and is available under the the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)
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